Re: RARA-AVIS: Whatever happened to rye?

From: david david (
Date: 11 Oct 2007

I haven't had much to say lately, but this topic is right down my gullet:

Most Canadian whiskeys don't have much rye in them. Though they call their whiskey "rye" generically in Canada, most of them don't qualify as rye in the US. To be labeled rye in the US, it's gotta have more than 50% rye in the mash, as it should be.

Old Overholt (or old overcoat, as afficianados have affectionately nicknamed it) is a good, smooth, light bodied starter rye. I actually think it works better in cocktails than higher priced ryes. At about 15 bucks a pop, every home should have a bottle handy. if you get a Sazerac in New Orleans, Old Overholt is the rye you're gonna get.

For straight sipping, try the 20 buck range Rittenhouse B.I.B. (careful--100 proof). And, before you die, try the pinnacle of ryes: Black Maple Hill 23 year aged rye. It's costly but oh so damn good.

This is Jack Bettridge's excellent version of what happened to rye:

"During Prohibition, rye, like its straight whiskey cousin, Bourbon, disappeared, replaced by Scotch and Canadian whiskies, which were smuggled in, and moonshine. After Prohibition's repeal, American distillers were at a disadvantage. Drinkers had developed a taste for foreign spirits and what alcohol Americans did make needed years to mature. Consumers could either wait four years for American straight whiskeys or enjoy Canadian, a blended, rye-based whisky, right away. Predictably, many rye customers defected to Canadian, especially since some blended American whiskeys that were rushed to market were little better than rotgut. At the same time tastes were veering toward light drinks -- another advantage for blended whiskeys. Bourbon, with its sweeter, more assertive flavor, became the standard bearer for straight whiskey enthusiasts. People began to refer to Canadian and other blended whiskey as rye, and the once-proud spirit faded into obscurity in the wave of confusion. The fact that Chandler framed rye as a tough guy drink for his hard-living detective as early as the '30s indicates that it wasn't at the center of popular American tastes even then.

Soon rye production, which had so long been centered in Pennsylvania and Maryland, became an adjunct to the Bourbon business. By 1984, when Michter's Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, was shuttered, the making of rye in America was all done in Kentucky, and at only three distilleries at that. The fabled Old Overholt, named for a Pennsylvania farmer, had become a Jim Beam product, and Wild Turkey and Heaven Hill put out their own ryes.

But with the growth of small-batch and single-barrel Bourbons in the last 20 years has come a smaller resurgence in rye, which we are now enjoying."

cheers, D.A.

--- Richard Moore <> wrote:

> Actually, Rye is making a comeback on the high price
> end of the
> scale with small distillers turning out bottles that
> cost $50 and
> up. About a year ago, most of the major US
> newspapers carried
> features on the companies. Intrigued, I bought a
> bottle of Old
> Potrero and it was quite smooth.
> Historically, most the Canadian whiskey brands
> (Canadian Club, Crown
> Royal, etc.) were made from rye. I assume they
> still are.
> Richard Moore
> --- In, "Jeff Vorzimmer"
> <jvorzimmer@...> wrote:
> >
> > > I thought I'd try some, and there doesn't appear
> to be much
> available
> > > right now. Just some by Jim Beam, which is
> hardly the bottom-
> shelf
> > > stuff most hardboiled characters seem to swill
> by the
> bucketful. In
> > > all the stuff I'm reading now, it's the ultimate
> working stiff's
> > > drink, but now it appears to be something of a
> curiosity.
> >
> > Rye got eclipsed by bourbon as the American whisky
> of choice. I
> still drink
> > it. Down here in Texas we get Old Overholt, which
> is a brand
> that's
> > mentioned in hardboiled crime fiction. Actually
> rye is making a
> bit of a
> > comeback down here with the resurgence in
> popularity of the
> Sazerac cocktail
> > at local joints such as Opal Divine's.
> >

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